Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Michael Flynn at Court Expected to Plead Guilty to Lying to FBI; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, eating Big Macs on Trump's airplane with him every day. Michael Flynn was. Well, I can't confirm about the Big Mac part but they definitely were together a lot. Pretty much every day. He was a constant presence with Donald Trump during the campaign, and look, there are a lot of open questions about what the president knew.

If they -- if the prosecution has the opportunity to go down this path, there is a lot of -- there's mining to do on that path. Just one example, did he -- did he have any indication that the president knew that his son was in communications with somebody from Russia who said that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton? Just one example. And I'm sure there are many, many others that I can't think of.

Look, I was talking to somebody who has been very involved in these kinds of deals as a prosecutor recently who said, you have to remember, if there is a deal, the first question that is asked is, start at the beginning of everything you know, starting when you stole the first nickel from your mother's purse, and that is an important thing to remember if this goes the way it appears to be going. And we'll see if that's the case.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Dana, stick around for one moment.

Joining us now CNN legal analyst, former special assistant to Robert Mueller in a different role, Michael Zeldin joins us now.

Michael, you're the one here who has worked with the special counsel before. Tell us what you see in these developments this morning.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I mostly agree with everything that has been said before I got on air. I'd like to add two things which are of interest to me, which is, which lies did Mueller choose? And those are one with respect to sanctions and one with respect to the United Nations resolution with respect to Israel.

Those two lies implicate a lot of other people in the Mueller investigation. As to sanctions they relate to Sessions, they relate to Kushner, they relate to Don Jr. As to the U.N. resolution, again, from public reporting, this relates to Kushner.

So he's picked lies that implicate other people's, you know, sort of standing within the course of this investigation. He did not pick something that's just related to Flynn, which might be the SF-86 financial disclosure form. He picked something that has, you know, tentacles into a lot of other people in this investigation.

I think that that is important in terms of what is Mueller thinking and who else was interviewed by the FBI a few days after the inauguration relating to conversations that took place during the transition? So these conversations to which -- as to which Flynn lied, took place in the transition period, and then he lied about them after he came into office.

This is exactly what is at the heart of the Don, Jr., meeting on June 9th, the U.N. Security Resolution conversations between Kushner and Egyptians as has been reported, so this is important in terms of that, more than anything else in my estimation.

BERMAN: Michael Zeldin, stand by. You said something very important there.

Again, the former national security adviser Michael Flynn any minute will plead guilty to lying to the FBI about Russia. Conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador. Conversations that may connect this investigation to even other figures inside the administration.

Is this part of a larger plea deal? How much is he cooperating with the special counsel? We have major developments, much more right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:38:18] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Major breaking news this morning. This was former national security adviser Michael Flynn moments ago, arriving at a federal courthouse where at this moment we believe he is pleading guilty, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. One count pleading guilty to several lies in conversations with the Russian ambassador.

This is a major development in the special counsel's Russia investigation into the Russian meddling into the U.S. election. Michael Flynn, a key -- the key foreign policy adviser to then candidate Trump then ultimately his national security adviser in the White House. You don't get much closer to the president than that.

Let's go to the courthouse, our Evan Perez has been outside, he saw Michael Flynn arrive just moments ago. Again, this is a key development, maybe even the most important development to date in the special counsel investigation -- Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This is a very big development. We're talking about the former national security adviser to President Trump. He lasted just over a week and a half in office before he was fired for lying to members of the administration, including Vice President Pence and that is the crux of this one count criminal information that's been filed.

We expect at this moment that Michael Flynn is pleading guilty to especially making four different false statements to the FBI when he was interviewed earlier this year. Two of the false statements, two of the lies, had to do with his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the then Russian ambassador to Washington.

[10:40:04] They were talking about the Russian response to Obama administration sanctions in reaction to the 2016 meddling in the U.S. elections.

The second set of lies, two additional lies, have to do with a U.N. Security Council resolution that the Obama administration has decided to abstain from. Usually the United States votes to veto resolutions that have to do with Israel. In this case it was a U.N. Security resolution that had to do with Israeli settlements.

For the first time in a long time the United States decided to abstain and there was some conversations between the Israeli government and the Trump campaign about trying to mitigate some of that. There was some last-minute effort and apparently according to these court documents, Michael Flynn lied to the FBI when he was asked about that in his conversations with the Russians about that.

So again, this all has to do with Russia. A lot of people have been criticizing about whether or not any of this has to do with Russia anymore. It's clear that Robert Mueller's investigators have been working on the central charge that they have, which is everything having to do with the Trump campaign and ties to Russia and that's what this one count criminal information, again we expect that there's going to be a plea agreement that will be announced in court probably at this hour at this moment with the federal judge.

And what this signals is that Michael Flynn is going to be expected to provide all the information that he has. We don't know the full extent of his cooperation with the federal government but at a minimum he's going to have to tell them what he knows as part of this agreement with the federal government. We expect that right now the prosecutors are describing to the court what the full extent of that cooperation is -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Evan Perez, stand by. This capped a flurry of activity this week concerning Michael Flynn who we expect is pleading guilty right now to lying to the FBI. At the beginning of the week we learned that his attorneys told the president they could no longer cooperate. Then we were told that a grand jury had postponed testimony. It all pointed to a possible deal between Michael Flynn and the special counsel.

And we also learned that the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner had testified, had spoken, I should say, agreed to be interviewed, by investigators from the special counsel's office.

Our Jim Sciutto, chief national security correspondent, back with us on that.

Jared Kushner's connection to Michael Flynn, it now raises even more questions about that -- Jim. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It does. And

let me be careful about how we describe this, but there is a tie here in this indictment, rather not indictment but plea agreement that is interesting. The lies with the Russian ambassador were not just conversations about Russia. As noted in this plea agreement, it was included conversations with the Russian ambassador about a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israel which took place in December 2016.

During the transition you may remember this, this is a resolution that chastised Israel for the continued building of settlements in the occupied territories which the U.S. abstained on which was a -- which was big news at the time for the U.S. to do that.

We know that during that time, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in- law, had conversations with Israel about that resolution that Israel reached out to Jared Kushner, advising the incoming president for help on that resolution. Of course, President Obama was the president at the time, leads the U.S., gave approval for there to be this abstention, but President Trump is coming in, the implication being is Israel saying, perhaps will you have a different approach to this?

But we know that Jared Kushner had conversations with Israel about that resolution as well and that would be, as we look at this plea agreement, Michael Flynn apparently lied about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador about that resolution. The relevance here is what was Jared Kushner asked about his conversations with Israel during the transition about that resolution? Were his comments fully truthful? What was he conveying to the Israelis when they reached out for help?

These are continuing questions in this investigation and show you why Jared Kushner in this investigation has some questions to answer.

BERMAN: Jim, stand by here. Our Gloria Borger joins us now.

Gloria, you've been talking to sources close to the president to get a sense of his mindset after this major development. What have you learned?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know exactly what the president's mindset is at this point and we may later in the day. I think they're all trying to process this as are we. One source I spoke with was going out of his way to downplay all of this, as you might -- as you might expect, as they have been doing constantly saying this has nothing to do with the president and that lying is nothing new in Washington, and, you know, all the rest of it.

But underneath all of that, I could sense a kind of anxiety because, of course, everybody is wondering if there is some kind of cooperation here, what is he cooperating about.

[10:45:08] And, you know, when you listen to what Jim Sciutto is talking about and this question of intervening with Israel before the U.N. vote, is a real question here and there are tentacles here. Who else was involved in this? If they were doing something they shouldn't have done when they weren't in the government, and then lied about it, who else was involved in hatching these plans?

And I think, obviously, you have to kind of look at Jared Kushner because he was -- had the Middle East portfolio and, you know, on all of these conversations with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak brings me back to the day when Sally Yates ran down from the Justice Department to meet with the White House counsel, Don McGahn, with her hair on fire saying, look, there are some things going on here that you need to know about.

Was she talking about Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador? And was that what made her just jolt down to the White House and say, this should not be happening? So I think we're going to now start peeling the layers of the onion here about who knew what when, if, indeed, we have Flynn cooperating now with the FBI.

BERMAN: Yes. Peeling the layers of the onion dome as the case may be since we're talking about Russian connections here.

Gloria, stand by.

We're getting the political spin, the White House spin. Let's talk about the legal side of this now. I'm joined now by CNN's chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and also CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin who once worked for Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a different capacity.

You know, Jeffrey Toobin, we talk about the developments in the Russia investigation. The fact that the president's national security adviser is at this moment or may be moments ago pleaded guilty, and may now be cooperating. This could be the most significant development to date.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think there's any doubt that it's the most significant because the only guilty plea so far has been George Papadopoulos, who I think everybody agrees is a fairly minor figure. Michael Flynn is anything but a minor figure. Paul Manafort is a major figure but he's only been indicted. He hasn't -- they haven't proved he has committed anything, any crime, so the fact that such a senior figure is pleading guilty is, obviously, of immense significance historically as well as legally.

Let me just raise one point that I think is really important. James Comey. James Comey, the FBI director, when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, perhaps the most disturbing interaction with the president that he talked about was the one on February 14th. That was the one where he was in a group meeting with a lot of senior officials, the attorney general, the vice president, and the president asked James Comey to stay behind alone and what it -- what did the president have to say to James Comey?

He had to say, give Michael Flynn a break. Don't -- you know, go easy on him. Don't push the investigation of Michael Flynn. And today's guilty plea raises the question, even more importantly, of why. Why was Donald Trump so concerned about Michael Flynn not being prosecuted? Now it could be that Donald Trump was just a humanitarian and he just

wanted Michael Flynn -- he thought Michael Flynn had given great years of service to his country, he was sorry that he was leaving the administration, and he felt bad for the guy. That's one possibility.

Another possibility is that Donald Trump was worried what would happen if Michael Flynn was prosecuted and then talked to investigators. What did Michael Flynn know that Donald Trump was so afraid of coming out later?

That February 14th conversation, I think, takes on even greater significance as a result of today's guilty plea. What did -- why was Donald Trump so worried about Michael Flynn being prosecuted?

BERMAN: Sure.

TOOBIN: Out of all the people in the United States, why is that person, the one person he talked to the FBI director and said, please don't pursue him?

BERMAN: And at a minimum now, he was stepping into an investigation that has now yielded a guilty plea. Michael Flynn, either moments ago or any second now, is going to say he lied to the FBI about these meetings.

Michael Zeldin you have worked with Robert Mueller in the past and you pointed out a key fact I think with this plea agreement that he's making today, this guilty plea. He's pleading guilty to conversations about Russia, with a Russian.

[10:50:06] This isn't about his paperwork having to do with Turkey or filings about being a foreign lobbyist. This is Russia. And it is about things that may, may, we don't know for sure, ultimately connect to other figures as well.

ZELDIN: Right. I think that's right. I think that the choice of the lie is important. Remember, these investigations started before Mueller came on board. The lies, January 24th, were before Mueller was appointed on May 17th. So this is part of the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation counter intelligence investigation. So it's important to put it in its historical context.

So there are other people who I think may well have been interviewed during this same time period, pre-Mueller, that didn't quite understand the significance of what the FBI was looking at and why what they thought might have been innocuous, remember, he said I don't remember, was one of the lies is, and I didn't tell him was one of the other lies, those are the sort of lies that Papadopoulos made, too.

So it makes me wonder whether others who have been already interviewed before Mueller, have made similar lies about matters which they think nobody knows anything about, I can get away with it.

Now to Jeffrey's point of spinning hypotheticals which I'm all in favor of. Remember, Sessions said I had a conversation with Kislyak, but it was of no import, nothing substantive. Then Kislyak is picked up on an intercept where he's saying that conversation actually was of substance and so if Sessions, again hypothetically, were to have been interviewed by the FBI during this pre-Mueller period and said it was not substantive, but Kislyak says it is substantive, they may find that to be disingenuous or false, and so that's why I said at the outset, all of these people in the ecosystem of the Mueller investigation are implicated by the lies that Mueller picked to file this information with respect to.

So I think everyone has to be worried about what did they say back in January before Mueller got there when they weren't even contemplating what Mueller might be investigating?

BERMAN: Michael Zeldin, stand by for a second.

Errol Louis, CNN political analyst, is here with me now. You've been with me this whole time since this news broke that Michael Flynn was on his way to the courthouse where he is now pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and you pointed out a key salient fact here, which was known beforehand but this just puts a finer point on it.

The Russia investigation is not a hoax anymore. Once the national security adviser pleads guilty to lying to the FBI as part of this investigation by definition it's not a nothing.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. It's real stuff. And looking at social media, there are a few, you know, Trump supporters who were trying to sort of point out well, everybody lies or what about Hillary, that sort of a thing, some of that hopefully will now go away.

Now we have hard facts, now we have convictions, now we have something that unless you're the most rabid of partisans you've got to be concerned that the person who holds the secrets of our national security, who is tasked with briefing the president each and every day about the overall picture about where we are, is conspiring with the Russian ambassador, who's generally known to be sort of the spy master-in-chief for the Russian government, but more importantly, is lying about it to the FBI.

And less than a month after the fact, that there's no -- there's no loss of memory here. There's no amnesia. It was so long ago, I don't remember talking with Kislyak. The amnesia of -- regarding Kislyak is not a defense in this case. This is less than a month later. He lies to the FBI. He comes out and says, today, right now, as far as we know, with his own mouth, I lied to the FBI.

The questions then fly fast and furious and that's what's really important. Why did you lie? Who else knew about this? What was the whole point of the exercise? And as many have pointed out strategically from a legal standpoint when you are pleading guilty to one charge when there well could have been a lot more going on, when you hear somebody surface the letter from the lawyer for Mike Flynn saying he's got a story to tell, clearly there's something else going on here. And Mueller is trying to get to the bottom of it. That's what we should all be focused on. BERMAN: Dana Bash, with us now, also. Obviously, we are watching

this courthouse to see when Michael Flynn walks out and get the details about exactly what he said as he pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and if we do learn about the cooperation agreement, that's the law here.

The politics of this will be very interesting to see going forward. Republicans up on Capitol Hill they've had a heck of a time dancing around this already, how much more does this complicate things for them?

BASH: Well, it's even more of a distraction. I think in some ways -- this is going to sound counterintuitive -- they can try to separate themselves even more by noting that the special counsel is, obviously, working very, very hard and doing a very aggressive job at getting to the bottom of what happened and why and when and who's culpable and all of those issues.

[10:55:15] So at the end of the day, we'll see what comes out of this and I think that's probably what you're going to hear Republican after Republican say. I will note that the -- that Manu Raju just reported to all of us that he tried to get the Intel chair, Richard Burr, to comment on this and he would not do that.

BERMAN: Yes. Ran like heck from Manu Raju.

BASH: Yes .

BERMAN: Which is something common we see on Capitol Hill.

BASH: You saw the same e-mail.

BERMAN: All right. Dana, stand by.

Again we are watching the federal courthouse very closely to see when Mike Flynn emerges to find out what we can about what he said when he pleaded guilty, also to find out the details of a cooperation agreement if they are forthcoming.

Other major news today, a tax plan that seems very much like it is headed for passages in the Senate. John Conyers expected to speak at 2:00 p.m., will he stay in the House of Representatives?

Quite a day here breaking developments just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)